Zucchini growers can relate. Summer squash seed germinates and quickly grows into a healthy plant full of lush leaves. Male blossoms appear, followed by females that, with helpful pollinators’ work, morph into small fruit. At some point, the gardener loses sight of small squash and foliage obscures growing offspring, helping zucchini achieve baseball bat size, seemingly overnight. For the gardener, overripe fruit and vegetables may yield a disappointing harvest, but for the plant, they are Hide and Seek Champions, producing seed for a future generation.
My maternal grandmother taught me to identify fruits and vegetables that had “gone to seed,” and, during growing seasons, she showed me how to remove and cast aside those undesirables, encouraging plants to continue productivity. As the summer garden season ended, large cucumbers, squash, okra, and other specimens matured on host plants until just before frost, when Granny carried them to her home and harvested seeds for next year’s planting season.
Although heirloom gardeners save premium fruits and vegetables for seed, much hidden produce escapes the most diligent harvests, presenting a challenge to reduce food waste while utilizing edible ingredients. With a bit of creativity, Hide and Seek Champions shine in the kitchen, producing unique and delicious treats. Before tossing overripe fruits and vegetables into the compost bin, consider trying some, or all, of these tips.
Cucumber: Even when cucurbits grow large and seedy, they retain crisp flesh and delightful fragrance.
• Blend large cucumbers into soup, served either hot or cold.
• Treat yourself to a spa experience at home and make a cucumber facial.
• Steep cucumber in water for a refreshingly healthy drink or seed and blend flesh with a little water to freeze in cubes for a cucumber water treat anytime.
Okra: Test okra for tenderness by pressing the stem end with a thumb and forefinger. If the pod crunches, it’s probably too mature for most preparations, but will be perfect for these uses:
• Allow mature pods to dry completely, on stems if possible, and use in floral arrangements with other dried plants, fresh flowers, or colorful fall leaves.
• Harvest okra seeds from pods and make hummus with the Okra and Beans Hummus recipe, below.
• Dry mature okra seeds and grind into powder. Use as a thickening agent for soup, stew, or gravy.
• Cook okra seeds and use as faux Israeli couscous for a gluten-free treat.
Summer Squash: As squash mature, the fruit loses sweetness. But even when quite large, these cucurbits are not only edible, but delicious when properly prepared.
• Create a gluten-free, heart-healthy soup base with mature summer squash. Rich in flavor, the creaminess of yellow squash tricks the eye into believing this soup is laden with butter and cream, making it the perfect base for oyster stew. Check out my squash soup recipe.
• Mature summer squash makes delicious casseroles. Slice squash thinly for best results.
• Sometimes, summer squash dry well, making interesting additions to fall arrangements. For holiday use, paint dried squash gold or silver. Break open to harvest seeds in spring for planting.
‘Hide and Seek Champions can be intriguing and useful and, rather than despair when they make an inevitable appearance, celebrate the delicious and beautiful challenges they present.
Okra and Bean Hummus Recipe
Mature snap beans, often called Shelly beans, dry well for long-term storage. You can also combine fresh Shellys with mature okra seeds for a delightful hummus dish that packs a strong Wow factor when served with an edible, fresh okra blossom. Be sure to harvest flowers just before serving, as okra blossoms quickly fade. I was inspired to create this recipe when a recent harvest included Shelly beans, large okra pods, and freshly dug garlic that included dried heads. Technically not a blossom, garlic scapes form in early spring on hardneck heirloom plants, opening to reveal colorful bulbils, tiny bulbs that will eventually form new garlic plants. Adding a dried scape to dishes intensifies garlic flavor.
• 1/2 cup fresh, shelled white beans
• 1/2 cup fresh okra seeds
• 1 clove garlic, minced or one garlic head (scape)
• 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon tahini
• 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
• Pinch of salt
• 1/4 to 1/2 cup of good quality, extra-virgin olive oil
For Serving: 4 okra blossoms, stamens removed
Add a small pinch of salt (I used French Grey sea salt) to beans and okra seeds in a pot. Add water to cover and gently boil for about 10 to 15 minutes, until beans and seeds are soft. Drain water and place slightly cooled vegetables in a blender or food processor. Add garlic, lemon juice, tahini, hot pepper flakes, and salt. Blend ingredients until smooth. Add olive oil in a steady, thin stream while blender or processor is working until hummus is desired consistency. For as little waste as possible, use a plastic spatula to remove hummus. Hummus may be served immediately or covered and chilled in the refrigerator to allow flavors to meld.
To assemble: Fill a plastic, zip-lock bag with hummus and cut a small hole in one corner. Squeezing the bag, pipe mixture into the center of each okra blossom. Arrange filled blossoms on serving plate or in small glasses.
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